Potassium bromate in same cancer class as coffee

Potassium bromate, the chemical additive widely prevalent in bread and refined flour and associated with cancer, is in the same league as coffee, aloe vera, mobile phone radiation and carbon black, a key ingredient in eye-liner.

It also is less toxic than processed and red meat, according to a perusal by The Hindu of the list of agents deemed potentially cancerous by the International Agency For Research on Cancer (IARC) — a World Health Organisation body.

The intergovernmental agency’s periodic reviews play a critical role in determining national decisions to ban or regulate the use of certain substances and often make news when it pronounces judgment on the carcinogenic potential of agents such as coffee and the use of wifi.

Ubiquitous in bread

Potassium bromate, according to an investigation made public on Monday by the Centre for Science and Environment, was ubiquitous in several brands of bread and refined flour products including burgers and pizza, in Delhi.

The CSE referenced the IARC’s classification of potassium bromate to bolster its claim.

In its nearly four decades of existence, the IARC has evaluated 989 agents for their association with cancer.

Based on the quantity and quality of scientific evidence that is available through peer-reviewed literature and documented reports on the risk of cancer, the IARC follows a five-step grading scheme, the highest of which is Grade 1, or substances that are proven to cause cancer in humans, and the lowest at Grade 4 where there is definite proof that there is no link to cancer.

There are grades 2A and 2B which include potassium bromate and coffee — that differentiates between agents ‘probably’ and ‘possibly’ associated with cancer. These grades makes up the bulk — 791 — of the agents that have so far been tested by the IARC.

There are 118 agents classed in Grade 1 and only one, caprolactam, listed as ‘probably not cancerous.’

‘No risk assessment’

An IARC spokesperson told The Hindu that it differentiated between ‘risk’ and ‘hazard,’ where a hazard reflected how often a substance had been linked to cancer in humans and animals, and ‘risk’ indicating the probability of someone contracting cancer by exposure.

“IARC doesn’t do risk assessment,” Veronique Terrasse, spokesperson IARC, said.

“The types of exposures, the extent of risk, the people who may be at risk, and the cancer types linked with the agent can be very different across agents. Therefore, comparisons within a category can be misleading.”

She added that the IARC would be revisiting in June reports of links between cancer and coffee.

Active smoking, according to the IARC’s primer on interpreting cancer categories, carried a much higher risk of lung cancer than air pollution, although both are categorised in Group 1.

Another food safety expert said that while India by-and-large followed international regulations to decide whether to ban agents, there were instances of products allowed in India and disallowed abroad.

“Aloe vera is allowed as per our regulations [for skin products]) but internationally there have been [cancer] concerns over it,” said S.M. Bhardwaj, a senior official in the Delhi government’s food safety department.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 11:41:42 PM |

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